HIV denial: alive and well in 2014 [UPDATED]

Everything old is new again. For years on this blog, I wrote about HIV denial and the few fringe scientists and journalists who espoused it. I attracted a host of trolls, some of whom repeatedly attacked my credibility, my appearance, even showed up at my academic office. One of the most prolific of these was Henry Bauer, who posts long-debunked ideas on HIV/AIDS (and the Loch Ness Monster to boot).

That was, oh, 2007-ish and prior. In that same year Steven Novella and I co-authored an article on HIV denial for PLoS Medicine. In 2008, a leader of the denial movement, Christine Maggiore of “Alive and Well AIDS alternatives,” died of AIDS. In 2009, books were released from Seth Kalichman  (Denying AIDS)  and Michael Specter (Denialism), both further outlining the reasons why HIV denial is so, so, so incredibly flawed and dangerous. Seth still runs his blog, and HIV denial hasn’t gone away, but it’s lost some prominence in recent years–at least in the US.

For whatever reason, this week has been a hotbed of it.

First, MD/blogger Kelly Brogan had a post in support of HIV denial , specifically addressing pregnant women (currently taken down but the internet never forgets).

Now even worse, Frontiers in Public Health, an actual, peer-reviewed journal, has published a paper that is straight-out, unvarnished, HIV denial. Full stop. This journal is part of the “Frontiers in” series, that many readers will probably be familiar with. FPH claims that

Each Frontiers article is a landmark of the highest quality, thanks to genuinely collaborative interactions between authors and review editors, who include some of the world’s best academicians. Frontiers is well aware of the potential impact of published research both on future research and on society and, hence, does not support superficial review, light review or no-review publishing models. Research must be certified by peers before entering a stream of knowledge that may eventually reach the public – and shape society. Therefore, Frontiers only applies the most rigorous and unbiased reviews, established in the high standards of the Frontiers Review System. Furthermore, only the top certified research, evaluated through the democratic Frontiers Evaluation System, is disseminated to increasingly wider communities as it gradually climbs the tiers of the Frontiers Tiering System from specialized expert readership towards public understanding.

Except, no way in hell is that accurate after the publication of this manuscript: “Questioning the HIV-AIDS hypothesis: 30 years of dissent,” by a professor at Texas A&M University named Patricia Goodson. Goodson’s qualifications appear to be in health education, including sexual health (and many publications related to abstinence-only education and to abortion), but nowhere do I see any publications or training relevant to epidemiology or virology.

The paper itself consists entirely of the old claims that have been debunked time and time and time and time again, using tactics we defined in our paper: quote-mining, cherry-picking evidence, moving goalposts, citing prominent deniers and denial groups, and more. There is nothing of value here, and the only real nod she gives to orthodox opinions on HIV are to cite Kalichman’s book ever-so-briefly and dismissively (characterizing it as “a harsh critique of unorthodox views and of Duesberg in particular”). 

And who is behind the curtain? Well, for one, Henry Bauer, who appears immediately in the comments of the paper, pimping his list of HIV denial resources. Goodson comments (click to embiggen):

Goodman and Bauer

So how in the world did this paper make it into a peer-reviewed journal with the stamp of approval of the Frontiers line and backing of Nature Publishing Group?  (EDITED via comments: Grace Baynes of NPG notes that Frontiers journals are editorially independent from NPG; see my response below). The two reviewers, Preeti Negandhi and Lalit Raghunath Sankhe are also apparently both members of the FPH editorial board, despite almost no academic record. Neither has experience in HIV/AIDS , but the latter appears to be the editor,  Sanjay P Zodpey‘s go-to reviewer, while the former only has one publication listed on the FPH page, co-authored with Zodpey on public health capacity development in India. No publications are listed on Sankhe’s page, but there was one I could find which may possibly be associated with this name. Other than that, zero record in PubMed.

Why were these people, who clearly have as little background in this area as Goodson does, chosen as reviewers? This is, at the best, a pathetic excuse for peer review and editing, and completely unprofessional and unacceptable. Did Zodpey, who does appear to have some background in HIV, even read the article before passing it along to two unqualified reviewers? This type of review makes a mockery of the entire system and makes us all look bad.

Even worse, papers like this are clearly dangerous. I wrote not even a week ago about the deadly distrust so many have in our medical system, and cited HIV denial as an example. South African policies regarding HIV (and the denial that the virus was behind AIDS) led to an estimated 330,000 premature deaths from AIDS, and 35,000 infants born with HIV infections that could have been prevented in that country alone.  This is what Goodson and Bauer (among others) are supporting. Frontiers and Nature, do you really want to be a part of this as well?

(Tip o’ the hat to Kenneth Witwer and Brian Foley for bringing this to my attention.)

UPDATED 9/26 The Frontiers Editorial Office has posted a Statement of Concern on their site regarding the paper:

Statement of Concern: The article “Questioning the HIV-AIDS hypothesis: 30 years of dissent” (Goodson 2014), was accepted for publication on the 7th September 2014. In its duty to publish responsibly, and in light of numerous complaints received about the paper, Frontiers has launched an investigation, the outcome of which will be made public once all adequate procedures have been completed. September 26, 2016. Frontiers Editorial Office, Lausanne, Switzerland.

 

Twitter-splained

Just wrapped up a meeting sponsored by the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics, and Policy and Princeton University’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Institute on the topic of antibiotic resistance at the animal-human interface. While I was there, I hopped on Twitter at a break after mingling and pumping–and got my ass Twitter-splained. I should note that i have no idea who Doc Ricky is–or if said Doc is a man or a woman, but either gender can be susceptible to doubting the expertise of women and relying on men to “set them straight” as it appears happened here. Storify follows (link here).

The world’s foremost Proust scholar

The world’s foremost Proust scholar

Twitter-splained!

  1. Another article using “superbugs”  http://aetiologyblog.com/2014/05/13/superbugs-rising/  – and calling to action blaming antibiotic use on farms. #kneejerk
  2. @drricky That’s by @aetiology who has done her homework and may well know a lot more than you about this. Your hashtag may apply you.
  3. @SavorTooth Not going with the argument from authority fallacy. Article ends with a call to action that isn’t well thought out.
  4. @SavorTooth I have been looking at the data. Go past the false equivalence of the antibiotic classifications.
  5. @drricky Yeah, and she studies the data professionally at Iowa State. Hardly knee jerk.
  6. OK, so I know not everyone knows me or what I do. And my name is pretty common, so sometimes Google-fu is tough. Maybe linking to my website would help clear things up…
  7. .@SavorTooth @drricky Every post I write isn’t going 2 b science-heavy. Search my blog or pubs, plenty science there.  http://taracsmith.com 
  8. @aetiology @SavorTooth I call to question this particular post because it alludes to certain scientifically dubious premises.
  9. I also pointed out that even in the post, I don't put blame only on ag antibiotics. Even at the "Superbugs" meeting, we discussed human-use antibiotics. One of the speakers was Dan Uslan (@dan_uslan), an infectious disease doctor at UCLA. No one is dismissing this as a cause of resistance.
  10. @drricky I call in farms and clinics–note I described what docs/hospitals are doing. Any antibiotic use -> resistance.
  11. @aetiology @SavorTooth been combing pubmed for “smoking gun” articles for years.
  12. @aetiology yes – all antibiotics are of finite usage. But not all equivalent.
  13. @aetiology @SavorTooth Yes, indeed, I agree re: totality of evidence. But also indictment without sufficient evidence is unjust too.
  14. At this point, lunch at my meeting had ended and I went back to work–listening to other speakers talk about their work on antibiotic resistance. (My talk was yesterday). Meanwhile, all of these popped up:
  15. @aetiology @SavorTooth (btw – impt premise – I am going to keep this as academically neutral as possible) #discussionmode
  16. @aetiology consider the “call to action” ending of the article links to the pewtrusts advocacy. But it doesn’t detail what will be done.
  17. @aetiology @SavorTooth The WHO report doesn’t directly finger farm usage, but the pew trusts action pushes the 70% figure.
  18. @aetiology @SavorTooth The casual appearance of false equivalence in discussion antibiotics is problematic.
  19. @aetiology Abx resistance is a complex topic  http://mmbr.asm.org/content/74/3/417.full  impt to consider that resistance pbly evolved w the antibiotic
  20. @aetiology And the Davies review took care to define “superbug” in their paper  http://mmbr.asm.org/content/74/3/417.full  but this may not be the vernacular
  21. @aetiology @SavorTooth empiric antibiotic prescription in clinics as well as unsupervised used and disposal may be bigger problem.
  22. Obviously, he hadn't checked out my website!
  23. .@drricky @SavorTooth Are you really explaining antibiotic resistance to me?
  24. I didn't pull the "DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?" card directly.
  25. .@drricky I’m currently at a small meeting @ Princeton w/ world’s experts on topic of antibiotic resistance. Guess what? I’m one of them.
  26. Willem van Schaik is another microbiologist (in the Netherlands). He affirmed that I know my shit.
  27. @aetiology @drricky I’ve read the blog-post and there is absolutely nothing wrong with it.
  28. @aetiology @drricky ‘possibly reducing antibiotic use on farms, though optimism is mixed regarding how much that will actually help things’
  29. @aetiology @drricky is a very fair assessment of the current situation
  30. There may have been some snark.
  31. @aetiology @drricky this is pretty funny, actually. Like explaining to LeBron what a jump shot is.
  32. Best mansplaining thread ever MT “@aetiology: @drricky I’m at a mtg w/ world’s experts on topic of abx resistance. Guess what? Im one of em”
  33. Apparently this affirmation appeased Doc Ricky, who earlier "was not going with the argument from authority fallacy." Guess it's different when the authority is a guy?
  34. @cmyeaton @chenghlee @aetiology @drricky always a good move to back down once a white dude shows up to back a woman up. #gross

Castrating sheep with teeth: not a good idea (with video!)

Just a quick post as I’m in end-of-semester hell. Via Maryn McKenna on Twitter, the CDC has released a report of Campylobacter illnesses due to not food consumption, but because of castrating lambs. With their teeth.

On June 29, 2011, the Wyoming Department of Health was notified of two laboratory-confirmed cases of Campylobacter jejuni enteritis among persons working at a local sheep ranch. During June, two men had reported onset of symptoms compatible with campylobacteriosis. Both patients had diarrhea, and one also had abdominal cramps, fever, nausea, and vomiting. One patient was hospitalized for 1 day. Both patients recovered without sequelae.

During June, both patients had participated in a multiday event to castrate and dock tails of 1,600 lambs. Both men reported having used their teeth to castrate some of the lambs.

Among the 12 persons who participated in the event, the patients are the only two known to have used their teeth to castrate lambs.

Sadly, this wasn’t the first time I’ve heard of such a procedure. This was on Dirty Jobs a few years back (and yes, Mike Rowe participated–not for the squeamish).

On a related note, my grandma always had sheep on her farm. I helped to shear but never castrate. Now I’ll have to ask my dad and uncles what method they used…

Does bestiality increase your risk of penile cancer?

Aah, the things one learns when awake at 3AM on a Saturday night. Via a few different Tweeps, I ran across this article from Men’s Health magazine, titled “Urgent Warning: Sex with Animals Causes Cancer.”

I probably should have just stopped there.

But no, I read the magazine article, which states:

Brazilian researchers polled nearly 500 men from a dozen cities, and found that–we’re not joking around here–roughly 35 percent of the men had “made it” with an animal. That’s a problem, because screwing a horse, donkey, pig, or any other animal was found to up your likelihood of developing cancers of the penis by 42 percent.

Of course, this meant that now, I had to go dig up the actual journal manuscript. Though nothing is cited by Men’s Health, a quick PubMed search using the terms “sex with animals” and “Brazil” turned up Sex with Animals (SWA): Behavioral Characteristics and Possible Association with Penile Cancer. A Multicenter Study, published last month in The Journal of Sexual Medicine.

Though the MH write-up makes the research sound ridiculous, it’s not a bad paper overall. Starting out with the observation that penile cancer is common in impoverished regions in the world but relatively rare in developed areas, the authors wanted to examine one possible difference in this urban/rural divide: bestiality. So they enrolled 492 individuals who had spent their childhood in rural areas: 118 cases who had penile cancers and 374 controls who were seen at the same clinics for other issues, including check-ups and “cancer prevention” (though it’s not really defined what’s included in that catch-all). All participants were asked a variety of questions about their sexual history, including sex with animals and humans (frequency, number of partners, the usual drill), circumcision status, as well as other factors that might influence cancer outcomes, such as smoking status and history of sexually transmitted diseases and other health conditions.

The authors did find in the univariate analysis (basically, looking at one factor at a time) that there were several statistically significant differences between the cancer group and the control group. These included smoking, a history of sex with prostitutes, the presence of penile premalignant lesions (not surprising) and phimosis (NSFW), a condition where “the foreskin cannot be fully retracted over the glans penis.” As the title suggests, they also found that having sex with animals was significantly higher in the case than the control group (44.0 vs 31.6 percent, p<.008). When they combined risk factors into their multivariate analysis, a few factors still remained in the model. Phimosis was the big one, with an odds ratio of 10.41; SWA was down the list at 2.07 (95% CI: 1.21-3.52, p=0.007). Penile premalignant lesions and smoking also remained, with odds ratios in the middle of the other two. Finally, just because I know many of you out there are curious, they also break down those who have SWA by types of animals they, um, frequent:

The animal types most often cited were mares (N = 80), followed by donkeys (N = 73), mules (N = 57), goats (N = 54), chickens (N = 27), calves (N = 18), cows (N = 13), dogs (N = 10), sheep (N = 10), pigs (N = 6), and other species (N = 3).

Yes, chickens for 27 of them. I don’t even want to know, but I’m sure if I did, I could find out somewhere on the Internets. Please, don’t educate me on that one. They also note that almost a third of the men reported “SWA with a group of men.” I’m leaving that one alone as well (especially as that one wasn’t any different between cases and controls, so it didn’t seem to be an important variable for penile cancer development).

So how do they explain these findings? Their discussion is a bit odd, in my opinion, and narrows in on the SWA finding to the exclusion of their other significant risk factors. Of course, coming from my background, my first thought regarding SWA and cancer jumps to infectious agents. They acknowledge in the introduction that the human papillomavirus (HPV) is associated with about half of penile cancers. Other species of animals can also be infected with papillomaviruses, such as the rabbit of jackalope mythology. A previous study identified five potentially novel papillomaviruses in Australia, just by doing skin swabbing. As such, it’s certainly safe to say that we know very little about the diversity of these viruses that exist in other animal species, much less their cancer-causing potential. It would be fascinating to look at tumor samples from the men in this group who were known to have sex with animals, and see if any novel viruses (papillomas or otherwise) could be identified.

However, they don’t limit their suggestion to only zoonotic infections. That’s when it gets a bit weird to me, as they say things like:

Speculation exists regarding cancer status as an infectious disease in humans [24,25], as studies have suggested that tumor cells can be transmitted from one mammal host to another within the same species [26,27]. PC is frequent in equines [28], but transmission of malignancies between animals and humans has not been reported.Virology does not consider possible viral movement from animals to humans except in cases of zoonosis, such as rabies or pandemic forms of bird or swine flu. However, the hypothesis that the HIV epidemic resulted from simian-human virus transmission has not been fully explored.

Um, huh? First, the citation they use for the HIV claim is from 1999–indeed, at that point there was still a lot that was unknown about cross-species HIV transmission, but that was 12 years ago! The field has moved on since then. I’m baffled as to what they mean by their first sentence–as far as I know, “Virology” doesn’t consider anything–“Virologists” do, and why would this not be a zoonosis? Though I think direct transmission of cancer cells (like in the case of the Tasmanian devil transmissible cancer) would be unlikely, transmission of microbes which could lead to cancer development is certainly plausible and well within the realm of virology/bacteriology/etc. In my opinion, it’s infinitely more likely than the idea they also suggest of more directly carcinogenic animal secretions.

There were also a number of limitations in the paper. Though they grouped frequency of sex with prostitutes into a “more/less than ten times” dichotomous variable, I don’t see any similar “dose” analysis for the frequency of SWA in their models, even though they did ask the men about this. They make one statement that “long-term SWA (>3 years) was reported by 64% of the PC patients and 46.6% of the controls (P = 0.044).” This difference was statistically significant at the usual cutoff (p< .05), but it doesn't appear that they studied this further--why not? If you have a typical dose-response relationship (the more times the men had sex with animals, the more likely they were to develop cancer in the future), that would strengthen their case for a connection between the two. They also didn't ask about sexual orientation or the nature of the self-reported past STDs. Are any of these participants HIV positive, for example? Anyway, with these limitations in mind, it does appear that Men's Health got it mostly right: don't have sex with animals if you value your penis. But it's unfortunate that they just go for the sensationalism and ignore the more important variables from a public health standpoint, like "don't smoke" and "if you have abnormal penile conditions, you may want to get those checked out, k?" References

Zequi SD, Guimarães GC, da Fonseca FP, Ferreira U, de Matheus WE, Reis LO, Aita GA, Glina S, Fanni VS, Perez MD, Guidoni LR, Ortiz V, Nogueira L, de Almeida Rocha LC, Cuck G, da Costa WH, Moniz RR, Dantas Jr JH, Soares FA, & Lopes A (2011). Sex with Animals (SWA): Behavioral Characteristics and Possible Association with Penile Cancer. A Multicenter Study. The journal of sexual medicine PMID: 22023719

Antonsson and McMillan, 2006. Papillomavirus in healthy skin of Australian animals.

Chickenpox parties–just a Facebook friend away

I’ve written a few times about chickenpox parties. The first link refers to a magazine article describing the practice; the second, a few years later, about a Craigslist ad looking to hold such a party “at McDonald [sic] or some place with toys to play on.”

Clearly, as chickenpox cases have become more rare in recent decades due to the success of the chickenpox vaccine, moving toward social media to find infections is the way to go. It allows people to find such cases and expose their immunologically naive children to a serious virus, just as easily as googling Jenny McCarthy Body Count.” But now, it’s gone even farther, with parents on this Facebook page hooking up to not only find cases/parties, but also to ship contaminated samples through the mail:

Shipping any kind of microbial specimen is a huge pain in the rear, specifically because they have the potential to cause harm. Myself and any employees who do this shipping have to be specially trained, and we have to use a number of specialized shipping containers to mail samples, and take precautions to prevent any leakage etc. out of the packages. Yale has a nice overview of shipping specimens at the link–54 pages long. We also have to apply for permits to ship many of these organisms. Now, Varicella zoster (chickenpox) isn’t on their list as far as “select agents,” but secretions from a person thought to have or diagnosed with chickenpox would be considered a category B agent (moderate risk of harm):

Biological substances, such as diagnostic or clinical specimens from humans or animals that are known to harbor a pathogen or have a high probability of containing a pathogen.

How should you package these?

Triple packaging. Must pass a 1.8 meter or 4 foot drop test. Packages shipped by air must meet a 95 kPa or 14 psi pressure test of primary or secondary container.

You can see pages 10-11 of the pdf for more instructions. This isn’t as easy-peasy as “stick it in a Ziploc baggie.” These people are putting a dangerous substance in the mail with the possibility (remote, but there) of making people sick. What if your mail carrier had never had the chickenpox or the vaccine? What if s/he is immunocompromised in some way? These people are taking all the dangers of their “chickenpox parties” and putting them in the mail system. Thank you, Andrew Wakefield and Barbara Loe Fisher.

Now, to be generous, their information page has been changed since the story came out to note “ABSOLUTELY NO SENDING VIRUSES THROUGH THE MAIL. This will not be tolerated and will be deleted immediately. Local only.” However, c’mon–people still have messaging on Facebook and I doubt that’s really going to stop the determined ones. These people simply don’t care about anyone but themselves and are in denial about the fact that chickenpox can kill–the one woman who received samples didn’t even know the name of the person they were from. This is so many levels of irresponsible I don’t even know where to begin.

Finally, not surprisingly, they’re deleting any comments that run counter to their propaganda. I replied to a few comments noting that the link between chickenpox and subsequent Streptococcal infection, for example, and it was gone within 20 minutes. I also noted that both my grandmother (shingles which led to pneumonia) and an uncle I never knew (primary chickenpox followed by pneumonia when he was only a year old) died from Varicella infection. The virus isn’t a joke, and those of us who had it, like me, are at a much higher risk of developing complications via reactivation (such as shingles) than those who obtained immunity via the vaccine. I wish the vaccine had been available when I was a kid, and I am frustrated as hell that these types of “parties” still exist in the vaccine era.

[Update: at least in Tennessee, a US prosecutor is warning that these types of mailings are illegal].

You’re also too pretty for math

I wasn’t going to raise this comment en blogge, but with Dr. Isis’ new post, it becomes more relevant. From Rick Fletcher on the “you’re too pretty” post:

It’s a major issue if your department won’t hire your or promote you because you are a woman. It’s no surprise that a retail clerk at a small shop in a downtown area is not the smoothest operator.

25 years ago it was a common response when I was introduced as a PhD chemist: “You don’t seem like a scientist.” Now it’s a common response when introduced, “Why are you single?” People say some dumb things. Not exactly the news.

But again, it’s an issue if the people who matter to your career hold you back because of your gender or appearance. Is that the case? No?

You can’t tweet the science but you can blog your indignation over getting hit on. Check your issues bag, it might be time for spring cleaning.

I already responded in the thread so I won’t rehash here, but via Isis comes this lovely reminder of why it’s more than just the people who hold my career back who matter–it’s an all-too-pervasive attitude, and it’s not just about me. Isis caught this screenshot from the store Forever21 (a store that I think we have in our mall here; I’ll have to see if they carry this particular product):

Yes, for less than $4, you too can tell the girls in your life that they’re too attractive for math. As Dr. Isis notes:

This is the kind of nonsense that frightens me. Washed up old fucks like Harvey Mansfield don’t worry me. I worry more about the small messages that pervade popular culture. The messages that we have to defend our girls against when we take them to the mall or the market.

Things like this make me realize just how far we have to go.

Bingo. *This* is why comments like that matter and aren’t just some kind of harmless flirty pick-up line, or just my “issues” that I need to “spring clean.” It affects all of us, and we all need to be aware of it and respond, rather than sweep it under the rug and dismiss it.

Additional thoughts on Bible-flu and the retraction

PZ has some additional thoughts on the Bibleflugate retraction up at Pharyngula. Choice quote:

This is a serious concern, to my mind. Scientists are expected to be open and communicative about their work, explaining all the details about how we achieve our results. Yet then we hand that work over to a publisher (usually a for-profit organization), where it is subjected to an arcane process cloaked in mystery that they call peer review. And every once in a while, some strange fluke exposes the inherently arbitrary and chaotic nature of that process, everyone asks “how the hell did that get published?”, and some guy in a business suit steps out to unconvincingly tell us “oops” and reassure us that all is well in the machineries of their journal.

I don’t think it’s enough. If a publisher wants to manage this profitable business of publishing science journals, there ought to be an expectation of transparency — a fuller explanation of how submissions are handled, and when mistakes are made, a more thorough explanation of exactly how it happened. Without an open explanation of how such mistakes occur, I can’t have any confidence that efforts will be made to correct the process that led to them.

He also notes the lead author responded to a request for comments, basically saying he was surprised at the response and was only meant to be “thought-provoking.”

Biblical flu paper going bye-bye

Well, that was quick. Yesterday’s post highlighting a really terrible paper in BMC’s Virology Journal drew a lot of comments here and at Pharyngula, and attention at the journal (where it currently stands as the 5th most-accessed article in the last 30 days). The journal’s Editor-in-Chief, Dr. Robert F. Garry, this in the comments section to my post:

As Editor-in-Chief of Virology Journal I wish to apologize for the publication of the article entitled ”Influenza or not influenza: Analysis of a case of high fever that happened 2000 years ago in Biblical time”, which clearly does not provide the type of robust supporting data required for a case report and does not meet the high standards expected of a peer-reviewed scientific journal. Virology Journal has always operated an exceptionally high standard of thorough peer review; this article has clearly not met these thresholds for balance and supporting data and as such, the article will be retracted. I should like to apologize for any confusion or concern that this article may have caused among our readership, or more widely.

Whilst only ever intended as an opinion piece and also a bit of relief from the ‘normal’ business of the journal, the speculations contained within this article clearly would be better expressed outside the confines of a peer-reviewed journal. Biomed Central does not support any views outlined in this article.

He also noted that the retraction will appear shortly. (This comment also appears in the comments section of the paper itself).

While saying it’s “only opinion” and removing the paper is a good first step, it’s still unclear to me how this passed peer review in the first place. I have a ton of opinions that have way more scientific support than that manuscript did, but I’m sensible enough to realize that they still won’t be able to pass any rigorous peer-review muster–that’s one reason I have a blog, after all, is to air these random musings. Articles that are a bit more amusing and a departure from the norm of the journal are all well and good (check out this article, for example), but for the “Biblical flu” one, either the reviewers/editor got conned or really let something slip through the cracks.

Either way, the retraction is a deserved result and a quick response by the journal and Dr. Garry, but something that really shouldn’t have been fodder for me to mock in the first place.

Biblical fever = influenza. You’re kidding me, right?

Via Bob O’H and Cath Ennis comes this truly bizarre article from the Virology Journal: “Influenza or not influenza: Analysis of a case of high fever that happened 2000 years ago in Biblical time”.

Now, regular readers will know that I normally love this type of thing; digging back through history to look at Lincoln’s smallpox; Cholera in Victorian London; potential causes of the Plague of Athens, the origin of syphilis, or whether Yersinia pestis really caused the Black Plague. I’ve even written a bit about the history of influenza. So analysis of a 2000-year old potential flu case? Bring it on.

But. For Christ’s sake (really), *bring the evidence with you.* From the article’s abstract:

The Bible describes the case of a woman with high fever cured by our Lord Jesus Christ. Based on the information provided by the gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke, the diagnosis and the possible etiology of the febrile illness is discussed. Infectious diseases continue to be a threat to humanity, and influenza has been with us since the dawn of human history. If the postulation is indeed correct, the woman with fever in the Bible is among one of the very early description of human influenza disease.

Infectious diseases continue to be a threat to humanity, and influenza has been with us since the dawn of human history. We analysed a case of high fever that happened 2000 years ago in Biblical time and discussed possible etiologies.

(more after the jump…)
Continue reading “Biblical fever = influenza. You’re kidding me, right?”

The development of a conspiracy theory

Interesting post today at juggle.com, showing the evolution of a conspiracy theory akin to a game of telephone. Interestingly, it starts with an article in Wired by author (and former Scienceblogger) Johah Lehrer. Lehrer wrote an article on the effects of chronic stress on health outcomes, and one researcher’s work to develop something akin to a vaccine to mitigate the stress effects. Sounds reasonable, no?

Next, the Daily Mail picked up the article, and focused on the “stress vaccine” angle.

Finally, the folks at Alex Jones’ Prison Planet–who’ve never met a conspiracy theory they didn’t like–took the Daily Mail story and morphed it into a discussion of “brain eating vaccines,” and a government conspiracy to eliminate all emotions from an unknowing public (follow-up here, and they even have a third article bashing Lehrer. Impressive!

Now, I’m not necessarily blaming the Daily Mail as the intermediate in this. Yes, their story was certainly more sensational and less nuanced than the original Wired piece, but PrisonPlanet could also take the most innocuous story on any scientific breakthrough and make it out to be some kind of vast governmental-scientific-pharmaceutical plot. However, it does emphasize again the need to be aware of what’s going on out there in these corners of the internets–look how they encouraged their readers to manipulate Google so that “brain-eating vaccines” would trend on the site. This kind of thing is their bread-and-butter, and the fact is that “the facts” don’t always win converts to any scientific argument.

Addendum: several on Twitter pointed out this PhD comic, which succinctly summarizes the cycle.